Q: What does the Bible say about lying?
Answer: The Bible has many references about unacceptable human actions and many instructive passages that speak to God’s will and laws.
A good starting place is to review the Ten Commandments found in Exodus, and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew. These passages deal with love for God and love for each other (neighbors). The Ten Commandments explain the laws of God, and Jesus’ sermon presents Christian values.
Dishonoring God is a sin. Intentionally dishonoring and harming another person is an act against God’s laws and will. The commandment to consider for this discussion is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” The words “Bear false witness” suggest perjury, but I believe that it includes speaking falsely, prejudicially or deceptively with harmful intent. Committing such a harmful act would require that the offender seek forgiveness and repent
Passages in the Bible deal with God’s concern about lying as found in Proverbs 12:22 — “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy” — and in Proverbs 25:1: “Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow.” Peter 3:10 presents guidance: “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.”
The Bible presents the consequences of lying. Ananias and Sapphira sold some property, and they lied and kept some of the money. This self-serving lie cost them their lives. The incident is found in Acts 5:3-4. Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” In another memorable incident, Peter lied three times about knowing Jesus. He acted out of fear. When confronted, Peter was remorseful and was forgiven through love and grace. Also there are incidents in the Bible in which people used false words or evasive acts to save others. The story of Rahab, who lied to save the lives of the two Israelites, is described in Joshua 2:1-24. In Exodus 1:15-21, Shiphrah and Puah distorted the truth to save the lives of first-born Hebrew males. These women were brave and their actions were not sinful.
The reader’s question opens the door to human behavior. The tendency to fib, tell a white lie, stretch the truth or be deceptive seems natural for some people. Some of these acts are not sins but can be morally questionable. They require judgment about intentionality and consequences.
Experience reveals the danger of misusing the truth. Sir Walter Scott made a good point when he wrote, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, / When first we practise to deceive!”
False statements and deceptive actions in conversations, commercial interactions and public discourse limit the possibility of building trusting relationships. The Bible stresses the importance of trustworthiness. Proverbs 6:17-19 clearly describes actions that destroy trust between people: “Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”
Following the advice found in Zechariah 8:16-17 is a path to building trust: “Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against each other, and do not swear falsely.”
A Pew Research Center survey revealed that 43% of Americans think lying is morally unacceptable, but many people will accept false statements for personal gains. For the well-being of society, people should monitor information and hold each other accountable for words and deeds. Being trustworthy should be a personal, professional and communal goal.
Rosa Parks’ words are inspiring: “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically. ... No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in. I was a person with dignity and self-respect, and I should not set my sights lower than anybody else just because I was black.”